Odds without ends

Sometimes I wish this were a sports column.

Sure, I’d be forced to provide commentary on the nature of sport each week, and that would undoubtedly prove annoying after a while. But, on the flip side, I’d finally have an adequate soapbox to stress my growing frustration over the St. John’s men’s basketball team.

If this were a sports column, I could call out coach Roberts when I notice the team registering more turnovers than should be legally allowed. I could rant about how much the team misses transfer Larry Wright, and how his lack of playing time in 2008 could very well have contributed to his decision to leave the University. And this week, I’m sure I’d write about the team’s apparent lack of preparation last Sunday for Louisville’s trademark full-court press, which played a huge factor in the Storm’s 13-point loss.

But I am not a sports columnist. Instead, I write a column that appears in the opinion section – a part of the Torch that students, administrators, and faculty typically find while reading their papers from left to right, far removed from the articles chronicling the dismal fate of the Red Storm.

I’ve treated this weekly rant as a means of writing about St. John’s as a whole, oftentimes calling out questionable University practices. And this week will be no different, though after the ugly loss to Louisville this past weekend, I can’t help but indulge my inner sports columnist a bit. So bear with me as I wade into unfamiliar waters, as I make my first attempt to weave sports into “Odds Without Ends.”

First, let’s get something straight: St. John’s and I both want to see the men’s basketball team excel, but not because we’re simply fans of good sport. Rather, it’s a moneymaker for the University; the income earned from the Red Storm cannot be denied. But lately, the team has underperformed to such an extent that attendance at games and interest in the team is poor, at best.

For example, 6,128 people attended the Louisville game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The arena, during basketball games, can hold around 19,000 fans. It’s sad that the Red Storm fills up MSG to less than one-third of its total capacity, and to think of how this might affect our future contracts with the “world’s most famous arena” is cause for concern.

To fix the low attendance at games, administrators have tried to add incentives for students to come cheer on the Storm. Most recently, they offered students a chance to travel to New Jersey last week to watch St. John’s in an away game against Seton Hall.

Thousands of the University’s dollars went towards shipping students to the game, providing them with incentives like free movie tickets, free dinner, and free snacks, in addition to a special offer of $1,000 to the student organization that could rally the most students to come along.

I have the utmost respect for the administrators trying to improve school spirit. But I have just one pertinent question: is shipping students to New Jersey and spending money on unnecessary and random incentives really the best way to be spending University dollars?

The Red Storm is costing the University money for two reasons: first, the team is underperforming. Second, administrators have failed to realize where their money should really be spent to revitalize the team.

It’s admirable that the school wants to raise support at away games, but providing unnecessary incentives is no way to truly foster school spirit around a failing team.

I recommend that St. John’s cuts back on its spending in that area; it should hold onto the money and either spend it towards actually rebuilding the basketball team (hiring more coaching staff, improving facilities to attract more recruits, etc.), or save the money for when the school gets hit harder by the current economic crisis.

Though it was almost embarrassing to watch the men’s team mishandle the ball against Louisville last week, hearing about administrators’ mishandling of money hits even closer to home.

As you can see, a column about the Red Storm does not just have to focus on the nature of college sport, on calling for Norm’s head, or on speculating whether Larry Wright could have improved our conference record this year. Rather, it’s important to remember the significance of the men’s basketball team, as both a means of generating school spirit and as a financial juggernaut for the University.

Let’s make sure that necessary funds are directed towards improving the team. Only by landing top-notch recruits and filling the sidelines with impressive coaches will the team get better, school spirit actually increase, and the Red Storm start earning the school more much-needed money.

It doesn’t take a sports columnist to know that a failure to spend money in the right areas could lead to more losing seasons for both the Red Storm and St. John’s University as a whole.